Why district heating is still trying to develop in France

In 2022, 2.7 million households were supplied with hot water and heating through one of France’s 946 heat networks. Still insufficient growth.

Connections to district heating in France have almost doubled in a decade, but this growth remains “insufficient” for a method of heating that emits fewer greenhouse gases and is 20 to 30% cheaper, according to the latest annual survey of the sector presented on Tuesday.

“Between 2012 and 2022, the number of buildings connected to thermal networks has increased by 82%,” according to this study, carried out by the Federation of Energy Services for the Environment (Fedene) under the auspices of the statistical service of the Ministry of Energy Transition. .

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This means that 2.7 million households (or 47,380 buildings, including public buildings, offices and industrial premises) were supplied with hot water and heating by one of these 946 heating networks in 2022 (+48 compared to 2021). They extend over 7,046 kilometers (+529 km), mainly in the Ile-de-France, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Grand Est regions. Poor ratio of energy planning, despite the tripling of support from the Heat Fund in the last four years, heat networks consist of a unit for the production or recovery of heat and a network of pipes that bring this heat up to the buildings. They are more convenient and more environmentally friendly for users.

“It is necessary to speed up”

Historically, users of heating oil now include a growing share of renewable or renewable energies (66.5% in 2022) coming from, for example, municipal waste incineration, geothermal energy, biomass, etc., along with a declining share of gas (30.3%) and which became unofficial for coal (still 5 networks in 2022) and for heating oil. If their development is undeniable, as well as the development of too few cold networks for air conditioning (1,563 buildings connected in 2022, +118 compared to 2021), “it is necessary to accelerate”, orders the study carried out in collaboration with the Amorce Community Association.

“We observe an insufficient level of heat network creation,” he notes, recalling that France is at the bottom of the European table and far from its own targets, despite no less than 1,600 identified projects. Another program law for energy and climate aims to make it a “strong axis”, according to the ministry, with a target of 90 terawatt hours (TWh) supplied by the heat network in 2035, coming from 80% renewable and energy from renewable sources, compared to 30 TWh in in 2022.

“It’s a very ambitious target that means connecting 300,000 to 360,000 households on average per year by 2035,” Diane Simiu, climate director at the ministry, told the press.

“It’s a lot,” admitted Yann Rolland, CEO of Engie Solutions and president of Fedene’s heating and cooling network division. “But for two or three years we have seen a multiplication of the number of projects (…), there is an incredible wind of optimism in our professions, and the main question is to know if we will be able to find teams to prepare these projects,” he assured and welcomed the state’s efforts.

“We are cheap, durable”

The arguments are simple: “We are not expensive, durable, low carbon, local, and it is a source of heating that will not consume electricity when it is scarce – it will not be enough for everyone,” points out Yann Rolland. The obstacles are essentially financial: just to reach the level of 68 TWh supplied by the heat network in 2030, the study recalls, an investment of 30 billion euros will be needed.

Expensive community heat network projects also take a long time (around 4 or 5 years), while state support – through the Heat Fund managed by Adem – remains below even the need, if ever so high. In 2024, the government plans to allocate a record 800 million euros to this fund (compared to 600 million in 2023, 520 in 2022 and 200 when it was created in 2009), but this will not be enough. “This budget currently allows us to respond to two-thirds of the projects we have identified for 2024,” Patricia Blanc, Ademe’s deputy CEO, told the press.

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